GROVE CITY, Ohio -- Week Three of the 270 Hoops Proving Grounds presented a tremendous opportunity for 29 seniors in Central Ohio. The Underrated 2022 Challenge brought together a diverse group of players from all over the area, representing seven different conferences and more than 25 different high schools.
The event, which is a series of games played to 15 points, where the winning team has to win six games in order to win the event, had a unique twist. We added an additional rule to the action - rewarding teams with an extra point who got three-straight defensive stops with an additional point for each consecutive stop after three. That rule adjustment added an additional layer of competitiveness, rewarding great individual and team defense, while forcing the offensive team to move the ball and find good shots.
The teams with the best leaders and players who were willing to adjust to roles were most successful on Sunday, as Team 3, led by Groveport Madison point guard Marlon Elliott Jr. fended off Team 1, which was led by a two-headed monster of leaders in Bexley guard Chris Mitchell and Jonathan Alder guard Grant Welsch - to win the event title.
Team 3 consisted of the following players:
Marlon Elliott Jr. (6’2 point guard - Groveport Madison) - MVP
Isaiah Johnson (6’4 shooting guard - Westerville South)
Lance Pressley (6’6 small forward - Pickerington Central)
Dominick Caperton-Avila (6’5 power forward - Cristo Rey Columbus)
Gilbert Oduro (6’6 power forward - Bishop Watterson)
Joshua Evans (6’4 shooting guard - New Albany)
Aidan King (6’7 stretch big - Olentangy Orange)
Let’s take a look at every player in the event, starting with our top performers.
Marlon Elliott Jr. (6’2 guard / Groveport Madison ‘22) - Stamp it. Elliott Jr. is a 270 Hoops event legend. After all, the Groveport senior has won the last three that he has played in and has been the most impactful player on his team in all three of those events. That was the case once again on Sunday, as Elliott Jr. was an absolute monster on the defensive end of the floor, forcing more chaos and turnovers than any other player in the gym. Outside of that, Elliott Jr. is an elite level communicator and leader that elevates everyone around him. He knows how to run a team, picks his spots to score with maturity and has really improved as a three-point shooter. His intensity creates magnetism for the players around him, raising the level of play for all of his teammates which leads to winning basketball. The things that Elliott Jr. does best cannot be coached, as his effort, toughness and unselfishness as a leader are never in question.
Dennis Asoro (6’8 center / Eastmoor Academy ‘22) - Asoro was by far the most dominant matchup in the gym. It’s hard to find players with his size, strength and thickness, as Asoro looked like Nick Ward circa 2016 at times on Sunday. You cannot allow the senior big man to start going left or else he will put you under the basket and finish with great consistency. Asoro is a really intriguing athlete who has good foot speed, as he ran down an opposing 5-foot-10 guard in transition and stopped penetration on the wing, a play that was downright absurd for a guy his size. In addition to that, Asoro has strong handling coordination and enough of a natural shooting motion to suggest that he could develop into a knockdown mid-range guy in college. The Eastmoor senior will need to go to a junior college and should be a top target for every single Division I juco with full scholarships to give. This guy could become an All-American at the juco level and work his way into a Division I scholarship.
Grant Welsch (6’1 point guard / Jonathan Alder ‘22) - The best passer in the gym. Welsch is a consummate point guard, as he is an amazing leader, excellent communicator and brings tremendous energy to the floor each time out. He has sneaky quickness, is a stout defender and can stretch the floor with his three-point shot. Any college would be really fortunate to have him running their team. While I have seen Welsch play at a high level in a number of different settings, the memory that sticks out most to me was when he was out with an injury in an Alder road win at Reynoldsburg last year, however, that didn’t stop him from absolutely leading with his IQ, communication and unrelenting desire to win from the bench. That type of leadership is unique and hard to find.
Chris Mitchell (6’5 small forward / Bexley ‘22) - Mitchell is an absolute gym rat. You cannot keep this dude away from a basketball court and away from working hard. He’s also an amazing leader who has an infectious attitude, spirit and personality about him. He simply elevates everyone around him and that was the case on Sunday. In addition to that, Mitchell is also a physically imposing wing that can protect the rim, clean the glass, weave his way to the rim and knock down shots off the bounce with the elevation he gets on his jumper. The coaches at Bexley rave about his work ethic, as he drove straight from Grove City back to his high school to partake in Sunday night open gym after playing for three hours at the Proving Grounds. With the work he did in the weight room all offseason, Mitchell will be one of the area’s top breakout players this year as a senior.
Mohamed Ibrahim (6’4 small forward / Franklin Heights ‘22) - Ibrahim was one of those players who quickly adapted into a role and he excelled as Team 1’s glue guy. Whether he was grabbing offensive rebounds, chasing down loose balls or getting his hands in the passing lanes, the 6-foot-4 wing was very effective on Sunday. The senior has strong handling coordination for his size, can knock down shots off the bounce and is a tough matchup for smaller guards and slower footed bigs. This is a sleeper small college prospect right here who could be really effective at the next level. Sunday was a good showing for Ibrahim, as he was able to play with other high level players that elevated his own game, something he hasn’t really had the luxury of enjoying at Franklin Heights.
Seth Cooper (6’3 shooting guard / Utica ‘22) - Cooper is a player who has emerged onto our radar after strong showings at the 270 Hoops Exposure Series in August and Central Ohio Fall League this past month. Cooper brought his sharp shooting antics to the gym on Sunday and was a consistent scorer for Team 1. The Utica senior is an intriguing late blooming senior who clearly has a strong work ethic and love for basketball, as he has improved in every additional showing that we’ve had of him. Between Cooper and junior Trenton Collins, Utica has a chance to have its best season in recent memory this year.
Tommy Anthony (6’2 combo guard / Worthington Christian ‘22) - Here’s a kid that has overcome so much adversity over the course of his high school career and is now playing the best basketball of his young life. The 6-foot-2 senior is a combo guard that can play either guard spot, can facilitate for his team or provide the bulk of the scoring. We love Anthony’s handle, as he is not exceptionally athletic and doesn’t offer elite speed, but he is crafty and knows how to get to his spots, change speeds and keep defenses off balance. The senior can absolutely fill it up from mid-range and is a very good finisher at the rim. With Worthington Christian graduating the majority of its scoring from last year’s Division III state title runner up squad, the onus will be on Anthony to really produce in the backcourt and we think he is more than ready.
Mohamed Mohamoud (6’8 power forward / Westerville South ‘22) - Mohamoud has legitimate guard skills in his rail thin 6-foot-8 frame. The senior can put the ball on the floor, can create his own shot off the bounce and is a good enough perimeter shooter to make the defense have to guard him on the three-point line. We love the way Mohamoud played on Sunday, as his communication and overall energy were fun to watch, as they really helped his team play at a high level. The senior can protect the rim with his enormous wingspan, while having the foot speed to switch onto guards on the perimeter. He needs to add serious weight at the next level to remain on the floor, however, he has enough tools and size at 6-foot-8 to be worth a strong look by scholarship programs. It’s not often you find bigger guys with his type of handling coordination and guard-like skills. Mohamoud is another lengthy piece on a Westerville South team that will be a serious threat in the area this season.
Ethan Smith (5’10 point guard / Olentangy ‘22) - Smith is one of the craftier guards in the senior class. He has some quickness off the bounce and terrific vision on the move. Whether he was hitting jumpers off the bounce or dropping off dimes, Smith was the guy who made Team 2 go on Sunday. Look for Smith to have an uptick in production this season for an Olentangy team who will need everything the senior can give them.
Caleb Iheukwu (6’5 small forward / Westerville North ‘22) - The senior Iheukwu is one of the better senior wing prospects in the area. The 6-foot-5 wing was Team 2’s most consistent threat on the day, as he excelled getting to the rim where he was a consistent finisher. Iheuwku is a fluid athlete that runs the floor very well, while offering intriguing length on the defensive end where he’s very versatile. When he puts it all together on a consistent basis, Iheukwu can be a top 15 level player in the area. Westerville North’s season hopes will depend on just how consistent Iheukwu can be.
Kevin Reeves (6’7 power forward / Columbus Academy ‘22) - Reeves is one of the lengthier, most athletic big men in the class in the area. On top of that, he is a terrific student who gives you the full package from a character and maturity standpoint. The Columbus Academy senior was the best interior defender in the gym on Sunday, as he blocked, altered and contested more shots around the rim than anyone else. The senior is best suited offensively around the basket where he can finish on either side of the rim and clean up the offensive glass. He still has work to do to hit his potential, however, the upside is there for Reeves and someone we would suggest scholarship programs to take a long, hard look at.
Isaiah Wilkins (6’2 guard / Reynoldsburg ‘22) - Wilkins is a dynamic scoring guard that can fill it out from a variety of spots on the floor. Wilkins returns to Reynoldsburg after spending the last three years at St. Charles as a key role player for a team that was a major threat in the CCL. With quality size at 6-foot-2, Wilkins can play and defend either guard spot. He is quick off the bounce, can score with his floater over length and is a strong shooter off the bounce. Look for him to add a major boost to Reynoldsburg’s backcourt.
Lance Pressley (6’6 small forward / Pickerington Central ‘22) - Pressley is an athletic and physical force at 6-foot-6 that has been one of the better role players on the Pickerington Central roster over the last two years. The senior has really matured physically which has helped him turn into a tougher scorer near the rim. He really turned it up midway through the event, showing to be a relentless finisher at the basket, as his combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism are tough to stop at 6-foot-6. Pressley has solid foot speed on the perimeter which helps him defend multiple positions on the wing, while having the size and length to defend on the interior. The senior is a capable three-point shooter that will be a solid contributor at the next level on both ends of the floor. Look for Pressley to help a loaded Pickerington Central team compete for a district title and more this winter.
Isaiah Johnson (6’4 shooting guard / Westerville South ‘22) - Every single year Johnson has grown his game and increased in stature which has turned him into a late blooming guard who has a lot to offer. With a point guard’s handle, Johnson can get by defenders to the rim with wiggle while having a knock down three-point shot that keeps the defense honest. Westerville South appears to be a legitimate threat this season as the Wildcats have a handful of talented returning players with Johnson being one of them. I see him having an impact similar to that of 2016 graduate Ennis Thomas, who helped the Wildcats win a state championship before playing four years at Lake Erie College.
Dominick Avila (6’5 power forward / Cristo Rey Columbus ‘22) - Avila earned an invite after a strong performance at the 270 Hoops Exposure Series where we saw him for the first time ever. The strong forward was an enforcer on the interior for his title team, showing off impressive finishing ability around the basket, as he knows how to use his physical frame to bump defenders, create space and finish through them. The senior can do more than just bang in the post, as he has a silky smooth mid-range jumper that he uses in pick and pop situations. We really like Avila’s vision as a passer, as he can really create for teammates in the low and high posts. While he plays at a Cristo Rey program that has mightily struggled in Division III, Avila is a bonafide college prospect that Division III and junior college programs should recruit. The senior will work hard and be thankful of any opportunity presented his way.
Gilbert Oduro (6’6 power forward / Bishop Waterson ‘22) - For the second-straight year, Oduro joined Elliott Jr. and won a title at the Proving Grounds. The 6-foot-6 forward can play both inside and out, as he has a reliable mid-range jumper and has the ability to defend multiple positions. Oduro will play a critical role for a Watterson team looking to win back-to-back district titles after a Cinderella run in 2021 that had them one game shy of the state tournament.
Joshua Evans (6’4 shooting guard / New Albany ‘22) - Finally healthy after battling injuries for a large chunk of his high school career, Evans is putting together a strong offseason that has helped him emerge into a college prospect. The 6-foot-4 guard has intriguing length, quickness and ball handling ability that help him break down defenders off the bounce. The senior has developed into a reliable outside shooter that can keep the defense honest with the threat of his jumper. The most potential for Evans is defensively, as he has the length, athleticism and foot speed to turn into an absolute lockdown perimeter defender. If he can take that next step in his development and become a dominant point of attack defender, it would give him even more value at the next level.
Aidan King (6’7 stretch big / Olentangy Orange ‘22) - The 6-foot-7 King was one of the toughest matchups anywhere in the gym as he is a legitimate stretch big that can fill it up from the perimeter. While King can stretch the floor and float around the perimeter offensively, he is not soft by any means, as he can put the ball on the floor and finish with creativity around the basket. King runs the floor well, rebounds at a high level, sets good screens and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. The Orange senior has real value at the Division II level, as it’s hard to find bigs at his size that can consistently knock down the three-point shot while also offering enough athleticism to be a threat off the bounce.
Aiden Leslie (6’1 point guard / Grandview Heights ‘22) - Leslie was one of the toughest players in the gym, as he took more charges than anyone on the court and was not afraid to throw his body around for the good of his team. We love how hard Leslie plays, as he is constantly looking to make plays off the bounce with his underrated quickness and athleticism. The best player on a Grandview Heights team that won its third-straight district title last season, Leslie will have the chance to put up good numbers next season. The senior is a dynamic ball handler, scorer and facilitator that elevates the level of the guys around him.
Amari Gaston (6’3 shooting guard / Bishop Hartley ‘22) - The athletic Gaston is a scoring machine who brings a lot of value with his shot making and positional size at 6-foot-3. The senior has waited his turn for the last three years at Hartley and will have a chance to really shine as a senior, as he has the versatility and multi-level scoring to make a major impact for the Hawks. Defensively, Gaston can guard multiple positions, as his athleticism and quickness allow him to contain guards, wings and some bigs. While he was overshadowed by four Division I prospects with Nova Village this past AAU season, Gaston is worth a look for scholarship programs needing shooting and athleticism on the wing.
Miles Poindexter (6’7 power forward / Westerville Central ‘22) - Poindexter had a very strong showing on Sunday, as the 6-foot-7 forward was a relentless finisher at the basket. There aren’t many players in the senior class who can match Poindexter’s strength, length and explosiveness, as he can elevate and convert around the basket at a high level. Poindexter fights hard for position on the inside, is a stellar rebounder and interior defender. While he started his high school career mainly perimeter oriented, Poindexter still retains those skills on the wing but has found his greatest value on the interior where he is a rim deterrent defensive player and play finisher on the offensive end. Sporting a 4.2 GPA and 1310 on the SAT, Poindexter is a no brainer for high academic programs looking for length, athleticism and toughness. On top of that, Poindexter came to every single Bible study session we had for Hoops and Hope over the summer. This is a high level young man!
Jamari Strickland (6’1 combo guard / Beechcroft ‘22) - While he didn’t get the fan fare of other players on the Beechcroft roster last year, Strickland was undoubtedly the x-factor for a Cougars team that won its second Columbus City League title in the last four seasons. The 6-foot-1 senior is a pure scorer that was one of the best off the bounce shooters in the gym on Sunday. Any space left for Strickland is enough to make the defense pay, as he can make it rain anywhere on the perimeter. Outside of that, Strickland is a dynamic ball handler that can get to his spots while having the intensity and toughness to play a complete game on the defensive end of the floor.
Aamir Carter (6’4 shooting guard / Walnut Ridge ‘22) - Scoring minded guard with a great frame and positional size. The next step for Carter is to improve his motor and level of aggression, as improvements in these areas could help him develop into a matchup problem on the perimeter.
Dante Collier (6’4 shooting guard / Licking Heights ‘22) - Collier is an absolute bucket in the mid-range, as the Licking Heights senior is a terrific shotmaker. Collier has improved his game at a great rate and will be one of the top scorers in the Licking County League this year. With his size and level of shot making, Division III and NAIA programs should make him a priority.
Daviyon McDonald (6’7 stretch big / Dublin Jerome ‘22) - Transferring within the district from Coffman to Jerome, the 6-foot-7 McDonald could be the missing piece to put the Celtics over the top this winter. The senior offers a blend of size, length, athleticism and natural scoring ability that is hard to find. Division I junior college should give him a long look.
Devonte Curry (6’4 combo guard / Briggs ‘22) - Curry didn’t have his best day on Sunday but we have seen enough of him to believe that he can be a player at the next level. With great positional size and talent on the perimeter, Curry can play either guard spot at 6-foot-4. Look for him to be the top option for a Briggs team that will need everything he can give them.
Jonye Madison (5’10 point guard / Reynoldsburg ‘22) - Madison has some of the best quickness in the area as he is really hard to contain off his first step. While he doesn’t have great size, Madison makes up for it with game-changing speed and quickness. He is a pesky guard that can irritate opposing ball handlers with his quickness and perimeter toughness.
Matt Butler (6’6 power forward / Dublin Jerome ‘22) - Butler has really improved over the years and has developed into a tough matchup on the block. The Dublin Jerome senior has great footwork in the post, can finish with either hand and has strong touch as a mid-range shooter with three-point potential. Butler and McDonald’s skill sets will complement each other this season, as Jerome will have one of the area’s biggest front lines when you add 6-foot-8 CC Ezirim to the mix.
Tashawn Jefferson (6’4 small forward / East ‘22) - Jefferson is a hungry player that got a great opportunity on Sunday to go up against some really talented players from all around the area. The senior made an impact with his hustle and effort, as he was on the receiving end of several second chance points created with his motor on the glass. Jefferson was not afraid to get out and defend on the perimeter, while his size and length helped in team defense. With continued improvement to his skill set and more exposure to high level basketball, Jefferson could develop into a solid role player in college.